BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Britain will use import tariffs to protect its farming industry if it fails to reach a trade pact with the European Union, farming and environment minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday.
Gove told the annual conference of the National Farmers Union that the cabinet has been discussing what the tariff rates would be in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“You (farmers) have argued that we need tariffs on sheep meat, beef, poultry, dairy, both milk and cheese; and pig meat in order to safeguard domestic production,” he said.
“Your concerns have been heard, and an announcement on new UK tariffs in a no-deal scenario - with specific and robust protections for farming - will be made shortly.”
With just six weeks to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, the government is yet to win parliament’s backing for an exit agreement.
But National Farmers Union President Minette Batters said on Tuesday that some farmers have to decide as soon as next week whether to proceed with shipments through and to the EU at the end of February that could face tariffs in a no-deal scenario.
Trade minister Liam Fox has denied media reports that he supports slashing tariffs on all imports to zero in order to keep prices low for consumers.
“Without naming names, some people in this debate have had their positions characterized unfairly,” Gove said.
Gove said he was optimistic that talks between Brussels and Prime Minister Theresa May would make progress and that parliament would subsequently back an improved deal.
If there is not a deal, however, he said small livestock farmers would be among the hardest-hit.
“If we leave without a deal, the EU has been clear that they will levy the full external tariff on all food,” he said.
“That means an increase of at least 40 percent on sheep meat and beef, rising to well above 100 percent for some cuts. The impact on upland farmers and the carousel trade in beef would be significant and damaging.”
Gove said the government also had the power to intervent to provide direct cash support to the most vulnerable sectors.
“I will not hesitate to provide the support required,” he added.
Reporting by Nigel Hunt in Birmingham and Kylie MacLellan in London; Editing by Hugh Lawson